Myths and Scientific Truths about Caffeine

Everyday billions of people count on caffeine for a boost to their activities. It is said by researchers that caffeine is the main driver of material development in the Western world.

In fact, this natural stimulant is one of the most used ingredients in the world (1).

For a long time coffee and caffeine were demonized as harmful foods, but recently studies have replaced coffee as a beneficial and harmless food when ingested in moderation.

Today it is safe to consider your daily cup of coffee or tea as a pleasant way to promote good health. As long, of course, as your individuality agrees with this. Nothing is universal, different things work for different people. Coffee is not for everyone… but it makes a difference in the lives of MANY people.

This article examines the latest research on caffeine and its effects on health, addressing some of the main myths built around the beverage.

WHAT IS CAFFEINE?
Caffeine is a natural stimulant commonly found in teas, coffee and chocolate (here associated with theobromine). It works by stimulating the brain and central nervous system, helping to keep us alert and preventing tiredness.

Some historians claim that the first tea was officially prepared in 2737 B.C (1). It is reported that coffee was discovered many years later, when an Ethiopian shepherd noticed the extra energy that eating a certain wild bean provided to his goats.

Caffeinated soft drinks entered the market at the end of 1800 and the energy drinks appeared soon after. Currently 80% of the world population consumes some caffeinated product every day and this figure reaches 90% when applied to adults in North America (1).

Caffeine is a natural stimulant consumed worldwide. Most people consume it through coffee, tea, soft drinks, energy drinks and chocolates.

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Myths and Scientific Truths about Caffeine
By Flávio Passos with the collaboration of Pedro Ivo

Every day billions of people rely on caffeine to boost their activities. It is said by researchers that caffeine is the main driver of material development in the Western world.

In fact, this natural stimulant is one of the most used ingredients in the world (1).

For a long time coffee and caffeine were demonized as harmful foods, but recently studies have replaced coffee as a beneficial and harmless food when ingested in moderation.

Today it is safe to consider your daily cup of coffee or tea as a pleasant way to promote good health. As long, of course, as your individuality agrees with this. Nothing is universal, different things work for different people. Coffee is not for everyone… but it makes a difference in the lives of MANY people.

This article examines the latest research on caffeine and its effects on health, addressing some of the main myths built around the beverage.

WHAT IS CAFFEINE?
Caffeine is a natural stimulant commonly found in teas, coffee, and chocolate (here associated with theobromine). It works by stimulating the brain and central nervous system, helping to keep us alert and preventing tiredness.

Some historians claim that the first tea was officially prepared in 2737 B.C (1). It is reported that coffee was discovered many years later, when an Ethiopian shepherd noticed the extra energy that eating a certain wild bean provided to his goats.

Caffeinated soft drinks entered the market at the end of 1800 and the energy drinks appeared soon after. Currently 80% of the world population consumes some caffeinated product every day and this figure reaches 90% when applied to adults in North America (1).

Caffeine is a natural stimulant consumed worldwide. Most people consume it through coffee, tea, soft drinks, energy drinks and chocolates.

HOW DOES IT WORK?
When consumed, the caffeine is quickly absorbed by the intestine and goes to the bloodstream, through which it is transported to the liver. There it is broken in smaller compounds that affect the functions of several organs. The main effect of caffeine happens in the brain, blocking the effects of adenosine, a neurotransmitter that relaxes the brain and makes us feel tired (2).

Normally adenosine levels increase throughout the day, increasing the feeling of tiredness and the desire to go to sleep. This is good because it leads you to rest, an important pillar of health. Therefore, drinking coffee at night (for many, from 16hs) can damage the quality of your rest.

Caffeine helps to keep us awake by connecting to the adenosine receptors in the brain, without activating them. This blocks the effect of adenosine, decreasing fatigue (3).

It also increases blood levels of adrenaline and the activity of neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain (3).

This combination further stimulates the brain and promotes an awakened, alert and focused state. Because it affects the brain, caffeine is often referred to as a psychoactive drug.

The effect usually appears quickly, for example, the amount of caffeine in a cup of coffee can take only 20 minutes to reach the bloodstream and around one hour it reaches its maximum potency (1).

WHAT IS A “MODERATE” CAFFEINE INTAKE?
According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and also the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) A moderate caffeine intake for an adult is 300 to 400 mg per day. Of course, this is only a reference, and individual sensitivity is always the best measure.

To help you calculate what this means in terms of portions, below you check the amount of caffeine in your most common sources.

For every 240 ml of beverage:

Espresso coffee: 240-720 mg.
Strained coffee: 102-200 mg.
Yerba maté: 65-130 mg.
Energy drinks: 50-160 mg.
Ready teas: 40-120 mg .
Soft drinks: 20-40 mg .
Decaffeinated coffee : 3-12 mg .
Cocoa drink: 2-7 mg .
chocolate milk: 2-7 mg .

Some foods also contain caffeine. For example, 28 grams of milk chocolate contains 1-15 mg, while 28 grams of dark chocolate has 5-35 mg (4).

You can also find caffeine in some prescription or over-the-counter medications such as anti-parasitic, anti-allergic and analgesics.

MYTHS ABOUT CAFFEINE


MYTH 1: You become addicted
FACT: People always say they are “addicted” to caffeine in the same way they say they are “addicted” to buying, working or watching TV. Caffeine is not addicted by accepted definitions and according to most authorities. When regular caffeine intake is abruptly stopped, some individuals may experience headache, fatigue or drowsiness. These symptoms usually last only one day, and can be avoided if caffeine intake is gradually decreased.

MYTH 2 : Caffeine increases the risk of heart disease.
FACT: Large scale studies have shown that caffeine intake does not increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and does not increase cholesterol levels or cause irregular heartbeat. A slight and temporary increase in blood pressure was observed with the consumption of caffeine among individuals who are sensitive to caffeine. However, the increase is similar to that resulting from normal activity, such as climbing stairs. Still, hypertensive people should consult their doctor regarding caffeine intake.

MYTH 3: Caffeine causes cancer.
FACT: Substantial scientific evidence shows that caffeine does not increase the risk of cancer. Two studies with large numbers of people in Norway and Hawaii and a review of thirteen studies involving more than 20,000 individuals found no relationship between regular coffee or tea consumption and risk of cancer.

MYTH 4: Caffeine is a risk factor for osteoporosis.
FACT: Some studies suggest that the ingestion of caffeine can increase the loss of calcium by urine. However, it has been found that any loss is minimal, and caffeine intake at normal levels does not appear to affect calcium balance or bone density. More recent studies have confirmed that caffeine intake is not a risk factor for osteoporosis, particularly in women who consume calcium adequately.

MYTH 5: Caffeine adversely affects the health of children.
FACT: Children generally have the same capacity to process caffeine as adults. Studies have shown that foods and beverages containing caffeine, when taken moderately, have no detectable effect on hyperactivity or ability to concentrate in children. However, in sensitive children, high doses of caffeine can temporarily cause effects such as excitability, irritability or anxiety.

MYTH 6: There are no positive effects of caffeine.
FACT: Caffeine is well known for increasing levels of attention and concentration. A cup of coffee or tea is always recommended to combat sleepiness, especially for those who drive long distances, and many people turn to a cup to return to work after lunch. Studies have shown that caffeine can also improve memory and logical thinking.

However, studies on caffeine go well beyond this, revealing a wide variety of important benefits.